April 27th 2012
Last week, a great campaigning human rights journalist of Pakistan was found murdered in Karachi – Dawn has more details here.
I first met Murtaza Razvi in Karachi in 2009 and he was a huge inspiration in the work that led me to launch the Samosa, and was always one of the first people I would look up on further trips to Pakistan.
He always had the best analysis and take on what was happening and a fantastic sense of humour and great humanity. I would spend hours in his company in his Dawn office as he chain-smoked away and brought me up-to-date with events.
He was also full of optimism that Pakistan’s problems could be resolved; he had great faith in the resilience, spirit and humanity of the people to overcome what he called the ‘forces of sectarian darkness and hatred’ that were attempting to destroy the country.
He also pushed me hard to work with the British Pakistani Diaspora to engage them in the work of progressive forces in Pakistan and to look beyond the easy politics and positions that many in the Diaspora often took, working with those that are trying to help progress and growth in Pakistan.
He repeatedly spoke about the need to have peace and reconciliation with India; the minority communities of Pakistan that are suffering so much prejudice and hatred also had few that would speak up for them.
He was quite simply one of the most impressive men I have ever met and it is a huge loss for Pakistan that somebody so honest, decent and committed to improving and building the country through justice, equality and democracy has been taken so young.
Here are two of his last articles,‘Indo-Pak Time is Now’ and ‘Why this Kolavari Di?’ that represent so well what a precious, beautiful voice he was for Pakistan and the region. We can only hope and pray that others will follow and carry on his great work.
Indo-Pak time is now
April 20th 2012
By Murtaza Razvi
Mending fences with India can disarm hawks within and outside Pakistan army.
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari’s recent unofficial trip to India was a win-win story in Pakistan, not least because despite the personal nature of the visit, the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, extended him a courtesy meeting. The meeting also indicated that a thaw in troubled bilateral relations may well be in the offing. That the spokesman of the Indian foreign ministry, in his post-meeting briefing to the media, mentioned Kashmir alongside the Mumbai attacks among the outstanding issues between the nuclear rivals, came as brownie points for the Pakistani side, which did not even bother to give its official version of the Zardari-Singh dialogue.
Even Nawaz Sharif, Zardari’s sworn nemesis, had nothing but praise for the visit. With a smile, he told cameramen that Zardari had done a great job by going to India and meeting Singh. A businessman, all for removing trade barriers and building commercial interests on both sides, Sharif sincerely believes that the creation of such positive vested interests between Pakistani and Indian businesses would go a long way in normalising soured relations. And sure enough, a new business visa regime is in the works, which will be announced after the secretary-level talks to be held soon.
Pakistan has inaugurated a second trade gate at the Wagah-Attari border, with a network of motorways constructed around Lahore from Wagah to reach the south-bound national highway and the north- and west-bound motorways to Peshawar and Faisalabad, the latter being Pakistan’s textile capital. The Punjab government has also completed an eight-lane highway to the Ganda Singh Wala border near Kasur, 40 km southeast of Lahore and across the Sutlej to Ferozepur in India. This is also linked to the motorway network and was made keeping in mind the possibility of opening that border once trade is liberalised.
Earlier, Singh’s offer to transmit up to 5,000 MW power to the energy-starved west Punjab in particular was a gesture that was widely welcomed in Pakistan. The national grid’s shortfall, which covers Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab, is touching the precise 5,000 MW figure. Pakistan has accepted the offer with much gratitude. Such confidence-building measures, whose fruits the public will reap directly, will help the democratic government at the Centre and particularly in Punjab, from where the army draws much of its muscle power, pull the rug from under the feet of anti-India extremists. Rogue elements in the army, too, who may have sympathy for the likes of Hafiz Saeed, will be forced to look the other way because the army as an institution never acts against public sentiment in Pakistan.
The strengthening of India-Pakistan relations, despite many unresolved issues between them, can work wonders for redefining Pakistan’s national security prerogatives over the medium to long term. If progress continues to be made in bilateral relations, the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) can rightly claim credit for it in what is now virtually an election year in Pakistan.
For Zardari personally, this has been a year of high achievement, despite his government having been in the dock with a rather activist supreme court. He has not only managed to survive even while virtually defying SC orders by refusing to implement many court decisions, but has also made enduring political gains for his party by securing last month a majority in the senate, the upper house of the parliament, whose term will run out three years hence, that is, at least two years after the next election. The senate mandate has also put a damper on the opposition’s campaign to demand an earlier election. This gives the PPP quite a breather.
Even if Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is convicted by the SC for his refusal to write to the Swiss authorities to open investigations against Zardari’s bank accounts, allegedly filled with ill-gotten wealth, the PPP can either nominate a new PM in his stead or call fresh elections, claiming political victimisation, this time by a court that is increasingly seen as taking an interventionist posture. The army is too engrossed with
the American endgame in Afghanistan and with how revamped US-Pakistan relations shape up to get directly involved in politics, or for that matter, worry too much about the democratic government mending fences with India. If there is an opportunity to move swiftly with improving relations with India all these years after the failed Musharraf-Vajpayee Agra summit, it is now.
Both Zardari and Sharif are cognizant of this opportunity. It is only nascent entrants in politics like Imran Khan who opposed Zardari’s India visit, citing flimsy reasons such as army troops being buried alive under an avalanche at Siachen while the president undertook that visit. The criticism was wisely downplayed by the media even as Imran remains their darling, ostensibly because the public showed little appetite for such criticism.
To be seen to be mending fences with India, showing to the electorate that it works for their own good and thus garnering popular support, can disarm the hawks within and outside the Pakistan army, and ensure the strengthening of the democratic process in Pakistan — especially when the ruling and a major opposition party are on the same page on India-Pakistan ties.
With eyes set on a possible breakthrough in relations with India and on the party’s prospects beyond the election, Zardari had a good reason for thanksgiving at Ajmer. No brownie points for guessing what he wants next from the Khwaja.
Murtaza Razvi, who was found dead in Karachi on April 19, was an editor at ‘Dawn’. He sent this piece to ‘The Indian Express’ last week. For his articles, go to indianexpress.com/ columnist/murtazarazvi/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Why this Kolavari Di?
By Murtaza Razvi
February 6th 2012
What have the Ahmadis done to deserve this treatment in this Islamic republic of ours? The latest bout of hate speeches against the Ahmadi community and threats hurled at them was witnessed in Rawalpindi’s Satellite Town last Sunday. Thousands gathered near a community centre on the call of banned militant outfits like the Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan and the Jamat-ud-Dawa, flanked by local leaders of the PML-N and trade unions.
They demanded not only the closure of the Ahmadi community centre but also that all Ahmadis be expelled from Pakistan. The country’s Christian minority also came in for a shock when the hate rally’s meeting point, the Holy Family Chowk, was rechristened as the Khatm-i-Nabuwat (Finality of Prophethood) Chowk.
Contradictions, social and legal, abound on the touching issue of the Ahmadis’ treatment in Pakistan. The said hate rally took place a week before Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) birthday which falls on February 5; the Quran calls the Prophet Rahmat-alil-Alemeen (Blessing for all the worlds [creation]); surely, Ahmadis are not only Allah’s creation but also His worshippers.
The rally itself was organised by a minority group of Muslims who also regard the celebration of the Prophet’s birthday as unacceptable, according to their sectarian leanings which are similar to those of the Taliban; similar groups have attacked Friday congregations of rival Muslim sects and bombed many shrines across the country, killing and maiming innocent citizens. Such groups have also targeted girls’ schools and colleges, even a women’s bazaar in Peshawar. So basically, according to their ideology, it is kosher to kill anyone not subscribing to their particularly rigid view of Islam. That makes it the majority of Pakistanis, and possibly of Muslims everywhere in the world.
As for the anti-Ahmadi sentiment in Punjab, it dates back to 1953 when anti-Ahamdi riots in Lahore had resulted in the imposition of martial law in that city. Later a judicial commission charged with an inquiry into the riots, which was headed by Justice Mohammad Munir, found that no two Muslim clerics out of the 50 odd who were consulted, could agree on a definition of ‘who is Muslim’. Therefore, the government had rejected the demand that Ahmadis be declared non-Muslim.
This was left to the country’s first democratically elected government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who in the 1973 Constitution declared Pakistan an Islamic republic, and then went on to castigate the Ahmadi community as non-Muslim through an act of parliament. Gen Ziaul Haq’s dictatorship further tightened the noose by enacting more anti-Ahmadi legislation.
Thus, in a country where on the eve of Independence, Jinnah had proclaimed “You are free to go to your temples … mosques … or any other places of worship”, Ahmadis were barred from calling their places of worship mosques; the kalema of Islam was removed from such buildings’ façade; holding prayers and congregations similar to those held by Muslims inside a building that resembled a mosque and keeping copies of the Quran in such places, were proscribed. An official declaration defaming the Ahmadi creed and its religious leader was henceforth required from citizens to acquire basic identity documents or even to open a bank account if you declared yourself Muslim. The kalema and Quranic verses were also ordered to be removed from Ahmadi gravestones. Pakistan’s anti-Ahmadi apartheid thus had the full force of the state behind it.
It can be argued that from an Islamic point of view such rulings contravene an important Quranic injunction in Sura Al Haj, which reads: [They are] those who have been evicted from their homes without right — only because they say, “Our Lord is Allah”. And were it not that Allah checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques in which the name of Allah is much mentioned. And Allah will surely support those who support Him. Indeed, Allah is Powerful and Exalted in Might (22:40).
Similarly the Pact of Madina in 632 CE, signed by the Prophet with non-Muslims living in the vicinity, gave the latter full rights alongside his Muslim converts; their places of worship were accorded full protection and they too were declared as part of the same Ummah, even though the word now only appears as exclusively defining Muslims alone.
Such have been the wages of historical distortions espoused and propagated by Muslim zealots of today since the injection of petro-dollars into furthering their intolerant creed.
That said, in Pakistan, a few questions remain unanswered regarding the religious, social and official persecution of Ahmadis: whether the anti-Ahmadi legislation is legal or not; whether it is in contravention of the basic structure of the constitution that guarantees religious freedoms; whether parliament has a constitutional right to ascertain the faith of an individual or a community or not; and lastly, between Parliament and the Constitution of Pakistan, which is sovereign or supreme, the institution or the basic law that even governs that very institution?
It is our moral and intellectual bankruptcy that not a single individual has dared to legally address these anomalies that have pitted the entire state apparatus and society against one, small religious community.
Originally published in Dawn.